Friday, February 14, 2014

Slow Cooker Lasagna




















  My favorite lasagna recipe of all time comes from a stain-splattered copy of Canadian Living's "Country Cooking" cookbook, and it is a masterpiece.  It's loaded with spicy Italian sausage and red peppers in the sauce and oodles of spinach in the unctuous bechamel.  Obscene quantities of cheese are a given.  It is delicious beyond words, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser.  However...it creates a mountain of dishes that would daunt the most enthusiastic of dishwashers (of which I am not one).  A pot for the noodles.  A pot for the tomato sauce.  Another for the bechamel.  And on and on.  Sadly, this is often a disincentive, and I opt to make something else rather than be forced to participate in my own ad for dish soap.

  Cue angelic chorus, friends, because an easier way has been discovered!  One large pot is all that's needed, and your Crock Pot.  Yes, you can (and should!) make lasagna in your Crock Pot.  I was as dubious as the next person, but have been converted.  And like most new converts, I will not rest until you, too, have experienced the same joy.

  I used a few recipes initially as jumping off points, and after a few attempts, have settled on a combination that exactly replicates the flavors of my favorite labor intensive dish.  This is a very adaptable recipe, and feel free to play around.  I used spinach, lasagna and red peppers, because that's what I love best.  If you're vegetarian, maybe a mushroom version would be up your alley, or eggplant (saute both prior to popping them in).  Ground beef, turkey or pork would all work well, too.  More veggies, different ones, whatever blows your skirt up!

  You can do this either on HIGH for 3 hours, or LOW for 6.  Either way works well (I've tried both), just factor into your planning that whichever you choose, you'll need to let the lasagna sit in the Crock Pot, covered, for an hour after it's done cooking.  This gives the sauce a chance to settle in, and prevents you from having a tasty, if sloppy, bowl of lasagna soup.

  It is a great thing to make when you wake up to see this...

 ...and realize that nope, you are NOT going to work, or anywhere else for that matter, for some time.

  Ingredients:
  • (2) 24 ounce jars or cans of Italian tomato sauce
  • 9 thick lasagna noodles with wavy edges (NOT "oven ready")
  • 24 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese OR cottage cheese
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 2 boxes of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella or Provolone cheese
  • Parmesan cheese for topping
 Method:
  • Spray your Crock Pot with non-stick spray.
  • In a large saute pan, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and break up, then add your diced red pepper.  Continue cooking until the sausage is fully cooked, and the peppers are tender.  Add your jars of tomato sauce, and stir until combined and warmed through.
  • In the Crock Pot, put a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pot (to keep things from sticking).  
  • Now start layering!  Break your lasagna noodles into halves (ball park, it's not at all necessary to be fussy) and place them in the Crock Pot in a single layer.  Cover the space the best you can, but don't sweat any gaps.  Dollop large spoonfuls of ricotta (1/3 of your container) over the noodles, and gently spread it evenly over the noodles.  On top of this, evenly distribute 1/3 of your spinach.  Next, pour or ladle 1/3 of your sauce on top of the spinach.  Sprinkle 1/3 of your shredded Mozzarella over the sauce.  Add another layer of noodles, and repeat for two more layers.  In the end, you will have three complete layers, ending with noodles.  Pour a thin layer of sauce over the top layer of noodles, and sprinkle on a handful of Parmesan.
  • Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours, or LOW for 5-6 hours.  At the end of the cooking time, turn the Crock Pot off, and let it sit for one hour prior to serving.  It will be a bit loose, but not soupy, and by the next day, will be completely firm.  
Note: This will result in a cheesy, gooey, lasagna, which is my preference.  If you covet the crunchy edges, however, popping the whole thing under the broiler (please make sure your Crock Pot can withstand this, first!) for a few minutes would brown and crisp the top up nicely.
Serves 6+, generously.





Sunday, September 8, 2013

Potato Broccoli Blue Cheese Soup

  Ahhh...early September in upstate NY.  Weather-wise, it's a total crap shoot, and can be almost 90 degrees F in the day, only to plunge to just above freezing the next night.  It makes sartorial decisions tricky, and requires the ability to add/remove layers of clothing at a moment's notice.  Bring sweaters and/or sandals to just about everything.
   I can handle the vagaries of weather when it comes to my wardrobe with a certain amount of aplomb, but as someone who cooks largely based on weather (and, let's be honest, how many dishes I feel like doing.  Hello, cereal over the sink!), it can be infuriating.  Do I get ingredients for a salad at the farmer's market on Saturday, hoping for warm weather, only to be staring resentfully at a crisper full of vegetables while yearning for a warm braise on a cold day?  I realize that in relation to world issues, this does not leap to the forefront, but still.  A girl likes to plan.  Especially if that girl is a bit Type A.  Not that anyone here would fit that profile. 
  Since today was the designated day to fetch groceries, and the weather for the next 24 hours could reasonably be predicted (cool and autumnal...yay!), I could happily cook accordingly.  And for me, nothing says fall like a big pot of soup of some sort.  One pot, minimal dishes, and a divine smelling house?  I'm in.  And since I had a bag of potatoes verging on the iffy side of edible, potato soup of some sort was in order. 
  Broccoli and cheese soups of many stripes are common as dirt, and in my experience, inevitably a bit disappointing.  Bland in flavor, odd in color, etc.  A few years ago, I found a recipe that took the typical archetype and made it, you know...good.  Potatoes added for richness, and instead of cheddar, a healthy amount of blue cheese for tang and depth.  Some white wine and garlic, and it's a home run.  This is a relatively light soup, which is ideal for dinner with some toasted bread and perhaps a salad.  Or three bowls in succession, and you can call it a day.  I chose option B. Burp. 

Potato Broccoli Blue Cheese Soup

Ingredients 

2 tbsp olive oil
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 lb (approx) broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
2 cups crumbled blue cheese
1 32 oz box chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup half and half
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper (to taste)
chopped chives (optional)

  • In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions, potatoes and garlic, stirring constantly, for about five minutes, or until onions are fragrant and translucent.  (If you don't stir often, the potatoes will stick to the pot like mad.  You've been warned.)
  • Add the broccoli, stock, wine and blue cheese to the pot.  
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes and broccoli are fairly tender.  
  • For smoothest texture, puree the soup in 2 batches in a blender.  Alternately, you can use an immersion blender, which will yield chunkier results. 
  •  If using a blender, pour the now pureed contents back into the soup pot.  Add the half and half, paprika, and salt and pepper.  Heat gently over low heat until warmed through.
  • Add some chopped chives on top if you're feeling fancy.
  • Serve hot.
4 hearty servings

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chocolate pots de creme




  I have a known disorder, of which I am well aware.  I am a cookbook whore, to put not too fine a point on it.  Gorgeous food photography?  I'm in!  Witty and helpful recipe introductions?  Better than a novel!  I've been known to read a cookbook cover to cover on more than one occasion. (Dorie Greenspan's books all read so beautifully and fluidly, I dare you to NOT get sucked in!)

  I will not confess to the number currently residing on bookshelves at my house, but suffice it to say that I am awash in choices when it comes to making a meal.  This doesn't mean that when I'm about to have people over for dinner I don't stare blankly around, shrieking, "I have nothing to MAKE!", though.  I have similar issues with clothes and shoes.  Likely these will all appear when the DSM V is published, and I will be able to follow an approved treatment protocol. 

  What I'm getting at here is that there are often many recipes for the same basic dish, with tweaks, flourishes and alterations that make them unique, while still remaining, oh, a roast chicken, or chocolate cake.  (When restaurants go bonkers about this sort of thing is when you start seeing menu items like Cassis Infused Dark Chocolate Torte with Blackberry Coulis and House Made Vanilla Bean Semifreddo.  That's when you should just leave, as the pretension is going to be expensive.)  In the multitudes of cookbooks that loll about my house, there are, at bare minimum, six different recipes for chocolate pots de creme.  Which, as it's Bastille Day and I'm feeling very French, means little chocolate cream pots.  And they are all, I'm sure, unctuous and luscious and divine.  However, each one is, to be blunt, a raging pain in the ass to make.  Double boilers are involved.  Baine maries are necessary.  (Hot water baths in which to bake things, which I inevitably dump all over the floor.  This results in a very clean floor and some not insignificant scalding.  You win some, you lose some.)  But pots de cremes are so lovely that you suffer through these things in order to present them to your duly dazzled dinner guests.

  However, I am here to tell you that there is a way, a very secret way, to make this the easiest dessert in your repertoire.  Easier than brownies from a box.  Easier than going out and buying a pie.  Slightly more complex than handing people Fudgsicles, but only just.  If you own one small pot and a blender, you're in.  And the ingredients are ones you can get at 7-11, if you must.  This recipe comes to me from my mother, by way of her mother, so is a fine family tradition.  I've played with it a very tiny bit, but just because I'm always looking for a way to include booze in everything (except Cheerios.  I think that would be problematic and career limiting.).  One of my culinary rules is that if a recipe involving chocolate also calls for vanilla extract, use bourbon instead.  This is good for two reasons; bourbon and chocolate are an incredible team, and it's a good way to use that godawful Jim Beam you have kicking around.  Drum roll, please...

Chocolate pots de Creme

Ingredients:

1 tsp vanilla extract (Or bourbon.  Draw inspiration from your liquor cabinet...there is likely something in there that will be delicious with chocolate.  Kahlua!  Grand Marnier! Amaretto!  Go nuts.)
1 egg
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup milk, heated to just below boiling.

Method:

Put all ingredients in blender at once, and blend on low speed for one minute, or until smooth and slightly frothy.  Divide liquid equally between four ramekins/custard cups.  Chill several hours before serving.  Top with whipped cream, fresh fruit, more booze, etc, etc.

*Caution*
Due to the presence of a raw egg, do NOT double this recipe.  It is the heat of the scalded milk that renders the egg safely "cooked".  If you need more than 4 servings, just repeat the process.

Serves 4

See!  How easy was that!